DH INTERVIEW | Rajyavardhan Rathore talks LS polls

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. PTI/File Photo

India's first sports minister who happens to be an Olympian, Rajyavardhan Rathore, the Minister of State (independent charge) for Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports is eyeing a victory for the second innings from Jaipur Rural Lok Sabha seat.

He will be fighting against Congress candidate Krishna Poonia, a sitting MLA and Commonwealth Games gold medalist. In an interview with Tabeenah Anjum of Deccan Herald he shares his journey from Army to Sports to Politics and his future plans.

How do you see your journey from being a military man to sportsman and now an accomplished politician?

The journey has been satisfying and challenging as well. Life is full of experiences. After having 23 years of military life, I have got an opportunity to play for the country at highest level and now involved with governance, electoral politics. I have been lucky to be a part of the team of Prime Minister Modi who is highly respectable across the globe.

What brought you to politics? Are there any regrets?

My own personal struggle with the governance system of India, sort of created a compelling reason for me to improve the system itself. As a soldier and sportsman you take up challenges.. then why can't a sportsman take up challenges and improve [the system]?

The environment was such that Narendra Modi came into national politics.. so that was a moving point. When you are a soldier there are times when you feel entire nation is dependent on one soldier — you are the last wall between secure nation and disinterested nation. When I entered into sports, Indians themselves did not believe that they can perform in international arena. But now I am happy to see so many achieving laurels.

After becoming an MP in 2014 you were given the responsibility of the Minister of State (independent charge) for Information and Broadcasting and Youth Affairs and Sports. What were the pluses and minuses?

For me, Information and Broadcasting Ministry was great learning. I got an opportunity to meet some brilliant professionals. But yes, Sports Ministry was something where I could pay back to my community. In fact, through the combination of media and sports, I could spread sports all over. In January 2018 after taking over sports ministry, I said that year 2018 will be the year of sports for India. And we successfully bagged record number of medals in commonwealth, Olympics etc.

For the first time we made two verticals in sports — one for elite sportsmen who are targeting for Olympian podium. We have set up a specialised team for athletes who will look after the coaching and funding, so that a sportsman gets to focus only on his game. Similarly, the second vertical was Khelo India — in two years we have selected 1000 athletes among school children who are getting 5 lakh rupees scholarship for next eight years.

We have raised salaries by 100 percent. We’ll attract better Indian coaches, masseurs and physiotherapists and better sports science specialists. Also, we have opened academies that will fund for indigenous sports of Indian origin.

Your contribution for Rajasthan and the Jaipur Rural constituency you represent?

Usually, Sports Ministry gives limited funds to states because sports is a state subject. But I have given 100 crores for Rajasthan to built running tracks, swimming polls. In my constituency, we built two indoor stadiums, 17 stadiums in state, 17 fitness centres.

Earlier the kids who used to play cards now run on the tracks, play volley ball, foot ball in their villages. A total of 16 gyms are a few to mention. Every Gram Panchayat in my constituency has some work done by me. Before 2014, for last six years no army recruitment took place here in Jaipur district. But now every year 500-600 youth from Jaipur rural join the armed forces. The construction work done on NH 8 that connects Jaipur and Delhi is worth mentioning.

In 2014 when you contested for the first time there was a Modi wave in Rajasthan and BJP swept all 25 seats. But later it lost two in the by-polls and also lost in assembly polls. Has it made situation difficult for you?

Losses in the by-elections and state election was for different reason. Electorate is smart and they know the difference. After travelling in the constituency I can assure you that people have absolute confidence. There is just 'Modi Modi' everywhere...

Congress this time has fielded their sitting MLA and Commonwealth Games gold medalist Krishna Poonia against you. How do you see the battle this time as you both are sportspersons of international repute?

When you are fighting an election you are representing an ideology — I represent an ideology which brings nation together. The Congress party's ideology is divisive and dynasty politics. Our fight is against the mentality that the Congress has now come to represent. Dynasties get rewarded, appeasement is the way to move forward, division to rule this country.

Jaipur Rural constituency has maximum numbers of Jat voters. Your opponent hails from the Jat community, does that scare you?

I am a son of a soldier who has fought 1969 and 1971 war. I can't think of caste, nation comes to me first. Whatever I  have done in my life, I have done on my own steam — be it tackling terrorists, then gold medal in Olympics and now politics, I have no godfather.

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